British Homefront during the Second World War: Three stories from the London Underground

Underground General

London Underground Station during the Blitz

It has been estimated around 177,000 people used London Underground stations as air raid shelters during the German aerial bombardment of London, but the London Underground did not always provide the protection many once thought.

Balham bus 2

At 8.02 pm on 14 October 1940 a 1400kg bomb hit Balham High Road opposite the United Dairies and created a large bomb crater which a double decker bus fell into, fortunately the bus was empty, and the driver was only concussed. At the time of the air raid around 500 people were using Balham Underground Station as an air raid shelter and were trapped after the explosion destroyed the roof above the northbound platform and tunnel. To protect public morale, it was originally reported that 66 people were killed and all fatalities were recorded as death by drowning after the main water mains and sewage pipes were ruptured and flooded the station. It is Widely believed the death toll far exceeded the official figure and it took several months to recover the last of the bodies.

Ba;lhamstn2  damage_in_balham_1940_2

Balham Underground Stations after bodies recovered.

On 11 January 1941 the central ticket hall at Bank Underground Station received a direct hit from a German bomb: the blast travelled down the escalator onto the platform and parts of the road collapsed onto the concourse killing 56 people.

bank2 Bank1

Bank Underground Station

The greatest loss of life on the underground was on 3 March 1943 at 8.45 pm.

According to eyewitness accounts, after the air raid sirens were heard several hundred people made for the safety of Bethnal Green Underground Station. A young woman clutching a baby fell at the bottom of the staircase and pulled down an elderly man and bodies quickly piled up at the base of the staircase while those at the top were unaware of what was happening and continued forcing their way down the stairs. Witnesses also describe a seething mass of mainly women and children all wearing thick clothes and gasping for air quickly develop… 173 people, overwhelmingly women and children were asphyxiated. There were also allegations that the Civil Defence previously warned of the dangers a requested an anti-crush barrier be installed on the single staircase leading to the platform, but their concerns were rejected and only after the tragedy were their concerns taken seriously and a crash barrier erected after the bodies had been recovered.

Bethnak Green after

Repairs to the staircase after the bodies had been recovered.

Alan Malcher